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Bulls get Hinrich back but lack energy, intensity in home loss to Cavs

Bulls center Joakim Noah grabs rebound fourth quarter Chicago Bulls 101-98 loss ClevelCavaliers Tuesday February 26 2013 United Center. |

Bulls center Joakim Noah grabs a rebound in the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bulls 101-98 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday February 26, 2013 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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As Tom Thibodeau left the ­media room after the game Tuesday night at the United Center, he found a special place for the piece of paper with the box score on it: crumpled up in his left hand.

The Bulls lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-98, snapping an 11-game winning streak against the Cavs. Thibodeau’s message to his team was simple: If things don’t turn around soon, its season will join that box score.

“Until we get the level of intensity up and play with high energy at both ends of the floor, play for 48 minutes, the result is not going to be good,’’ Thibodeau said. “You get what you deserve in this league, and we’re getting what we deserve. Until we change that, we’re going to have problems.

“We’re short-handed and you’ve got to play with great intensity, and you’ve got to do it for an entire game. We’re not doing that right now.’’

They haven’t been doing it for some time. The Bulls (32-25) fell to 4-8 in February.

“You have to give [Cleveland] credit because they came in and took it,’’ Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich said. “We just have to get back to playing right. We haven’t been playing up to our standards, and we’ve just got to get back to that, sooner than later. This time of year, teams are jockeying for playoff position, trying to finish strong, so no excuses. We’ve just got to play better.’’

Inconsistency has been the hallmark of this rut. The problem is, when the offense shows up, the defense doesn’t. When the defense shows up, the offense doesn’t.

Against the Cavs, it was poor defense, a lack of hustle on loose balls and being outrebounded 39-34. Those are three areas Thibodeau-coached teams are expected to do well.

“We can’t pick and choose, and we can’t play one side of the ball,’’ Thibodeau said. “It can’t be the offense one night, the defense the next night, and then you play one quarter. In this league, everyone is capable of beating you, and Cleveland is playing really well.’’

The Cavs did so without their best player, Kyrie Irving, who’s out with a sore knee.

Hinrich’s return from elbow injuries set up the Bulls for an easy win. But they allowed 101 points to a team that entered with 18 victories.

“We’re not playing very well right now, and we’ve got to find a way to play with more urgency, not play so frustrated,’’ Joakim Noah said. “We’ve just got to do a better job.’’

Hinrich had 11 points and 11 assists. Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with a game-high 27 points.

“When you’re down a player, you have to do it collectively, you have to play hard, and we were doing that for a long time,’’ Thibodeau said. “Now we’ve exhaled, and the results are not going to be good.’’



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